Written by Red Arse
As a dyed in the wool Gooner, I have become so enraged by appalling refereeing decisions, in game after game, that I realised it was becoming a serious health hazard.
The incandescent fury that descends upon me, at the perceived injustice, causes my face to mottle and go purple, like an over-sized plum, and my eyes to bulge like demented headlights on stalks, while my hand, of its own volition, spasmodically throws at the screen anything not tied down. My girlfriend has narrowly escaped being hurled like a spear at the set when sitting innocently besides me reading her astrological stars. Bet they did not forecast that, eh?
So, who are these satyrs in the black? These sylvan refereeing beasts whose revelry seems to lie solely in infuriating all fans, especially Gooners, at every turn?
Why do they choose, in their goat like obstinacy, to turn a deaf ear to our appeals for justice, or whose dim mole-like eyesight prevents them from seeing the blindingly obvious, while displaying an incredulous incomprehension of the basic laws of the beautiful game?
Well, believe it or not, it seems they are not satyrs nor devils nor simply just bad eggs, but just a cross section of the human flotsam and jetsam that we all belong to, with all the virtues and vices that are inherent in our species.
Why then, when they don the black garb of the referee, do they so frequently behave in an inexplicably arbitrary, confrontational and controversial a manner?
In part, at least, it is a battle between human frailty and technology.
Let us have a quick look at the human aspect. The human brain is itself a wonderful computer, but it has limitations as we shall see, and we are expecting it to work at maximum efficiency in a hostile and physically stressful environment, under the baleful glare of hostile managers!
What is the science behind the brain/technology that causes the problem?
Light travels at 186,000 mps in a vacuum, or about 671 million miles per hour.
Einstein’s theory of relativity shows that we never really see moving things in the “now” because of the space/time laws of physics. Our brains have had to evolve a predictive capability to adjust for the lag in our perception of movement.
When a player kicks a ball, light strikes it and is projected onto the referee’s retina. By the time the brain processes this image, the ball has moved at up to 65 mph away from where the referee “saw” it. In effect, the brain of the referee, and those of the observers (fans), is continually “predicting” where the ball is going to be, rather than where it was when the image was first projected onto his retina.
This parallax applies to all objects, including players, and makes the interpretation of the Offside, Law 11 into an extremely complex calculation, taking into account the distance the ball has or will travel, while also allowing for the movements of a group of jostling players, who may, or may not, be fouling each other, or who may, or may not, have already been in an offside position at the exact moment the ball was kicked.
Ludwick Fleck, the famous doctor and biologist, showed that a person’s subconscious belief can alter his observations. That is to say, the ‘human confirmation bias’ leads a person, with a particular belief, to see things as reinforcing that belief, even if another observer would strongly disagree.
Therefore, a referee will observe what he expects to observe, until shown otherwise, and his beliefs will therefore inevitably affect his observations, and his subsequent reactions, in a self fulfilling way.
Mark Clattenberg, in the Wigan v Manu game, did not give a red card to Rooney, despite almost everyone else’s perception of a deliberate elbow into his opponents face. This was compounded by a smile and an arm around Rooney’s shoulders.
This a perfect example of the human confirmation bias in operation. Clattenberg may have thought of Rooney as a ‘good’ guy; and an England player; and a much maligned sporting hero, not capable of committing such a dreadful foul, and therefore he does not see it. He simply saw what he expected to see, and not what had actually happened!
This human confirmation bias applies to us all, from victims of the con artists ‘three card trick’ to witnesses who give wildly contradictory statements of what happened at a bank robbery or accident.
Television technology has simply heightened our ability to compare what the referee thinks he saw against the reality of what the unbiased camera actually sees, using slow motion playback.
For myself, I will probably just carry on, irrationally, hurling abuse at the men in black, when I think they have transgressed against my beloved Gunners.
But, in the back of my rational mind, I will know they are just normal human beings doing their best, subject to both the laws of physics and human psychological conditioning.
It would seem that referees are not, after all, the cheating, incompetent, sporting pariahs that we sometimes believe them to be!
Who would have thought old Einstein with his theory of general relativity, as well as Dr Fleck and his philosophy of scientific sociology would play such a part in our very own beautiful game of footie!
Arsenal for the Double!!